Kill the Bill: Redraws Judicial Districts, Resulting in Fewer Judges in Urban Areas

by January 3, 2018

This bill redraws judicial districts, resulting in fewer judges in urban areas, and may result in fewer judges of color and fewer women judges.

Quick overview:

This bill redraws judicial districts, but watchdog groups are concerned about the ability for the courts to process cases, the election of more extreme judges, and erosion of the public trust in the third branch of government.

  • A substitute added to H717 would merge judicial districts, enabling for uncontested partisan control by Republicans
  • Shuffle the three-judge panels that have stopped unconstitutional laws.
  • Gerrymander judicial districts with similar maps that were struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

It passed the House Judiciary I Committee with a vote of 7-5 despite pleas from judges and district attorneys to consider the effects the bill will have on the rural judiciary system and court systems that are already at capacity. The bill passed the House in October and will be considered by Senate in January.


The take from

Democracy North Carolina

Lawmakers Need to Slow Down.

Judicial redistricting is serious business, requiring a deliberative process with research about the districts and substantial input from key stakeholders and the public.

  • In legislative meetings, many judges, court administrators, and lawyers (Republicans and Democrats) have asked legislators to “slow down” their plans to redraw NC’s judicial districts.
  • A better approach exists: The NC Courts Commission recommended a judicial redistricting study (HB-124) that has bipartisan support, but it has not advanced in the General Assembly.

Another Sham Redistricting Process

  • ‍Rep. Justin Burr, sponsor of House Bill 717, has aggressively pushed his plan, despite many calls to slow down, even from the conservative John Locke Foundation. He privately makes changes to his district plans and suddenly releases them just before a legislative meeting or a public hearing. This process is a charade, similar to the one used to adopt new General Assembly maps.

New Judicial Maps Are Racist.

The proposed plan:

  • reduces the number of judges serving predominantly Black counties, while increasing the number of judicial seats in predominantly white counties, regardless of their size
  • creates zigzagging judicial districts in urban counties that are similar to legislative districts struck down as racial gerrymanders (e.g., in Guilford County).
  • increases the backlogs of court cases for African Americans and harms alternative sentencing programs — delaying justice and increasing business for bail bondsmen like Rep. Justin Burr.

Rigging the System for Partisan Control.

Like legislative gerrymandering and partisan judicial elections, the maps:

  • rig the system to help one party and its ideology.
  • ‍redraw districts to make it easier for Republican judges to win elections.
  • ‍overburden the court system for traditional Democratic voters by reducing the number of judges elected from urban centers and rural areas with significant African American residents.
  • erode the independence of our courts and compromise voters’ ability to elect judges that will fairly and impartially preside over cases in their communities.

Learn more about how to take action on this bill here.

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